Writing a blog post is a little like driving; you can study the highway code (or read articles telling you how to write a blog post) for months, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing like getting behind the wheel and hitting the open road. Or something.
Now that I’m done thoroughly mangling that vague metaphor, let’s get down to business. You know you need to start blogging to grow your business, but you don’t know how. In this post, I’ll show you how to write a great blog post in five simple steps that people will actually want to read. Ready? Let’s get started.
Choose a Topic That Interests YOU
There’s an old maxim that states, “No fun for the writer, no fun for the reader.” No matter what industry you’re working in, as a blogger, you should live and die by this statement.
Before you do any of the following steps, be sure to pick a topic that actually interests you. Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – will kill a blog post more effectively than a lack of enthusiasm from the writer. You can tell when a writer is bored by their subject, and it’s so cringe-worthy it’s a little embarrassing.
Write an Outline For Your Post
Great blog posts don’t just happen. Even the best bloggers need a rough idea to keep them on-track. This is where outlines come in.
An outline doesn’t need to be lengthy, or even detailed – it’s just a rough guide to make sure you don’t ramble on and on about something tangential to your topic.
For example, this is the outline for this post that I sent to my editor before getting to work:
Section 1 Planning a Blog post
- Things bloggers should do before putting pen to paper – outlining, research etc.
Section 2 – Writing a Blog Post
- Tips on how to focus on writing, productivity tips for bloggers
Section 3 – Rewriting/Editing a Blog Post
- Self-editing techniques, things to watch out for, common blogging mistakes
Section 4 – Optimizing a Blog Post
- How to optimize a blog post for on-page SEO, social shares/engagement, etc.
Section 5 – Conclusion
The purpose of this outline is to make sure I know what I plan to cover, in what order the various sections will appear, and some bare-bones details of what each section will include.
Outlines keep you honest. They stop you from indulging in poorly thought-out metaphors about driving and keep you focused on the overall structure of your post. Sometimes I’ll write a more thorough outline (and sometimes I won’t bother with one at all), but most of the time, something like the outline above is perfectly acceptable.
Whether you write your outline in your word processor, on a piece of paper, or even scribbled on a bar napkin, do whatever works for you to keep you focused.
One of the biggest secrets professional bloggers Truth be told, sometimes we don’t know anything about a topic before we sit down to write about it.
This doesn’t mean that all bloggers are insincere fakers. On the contrary, many bloggers’ natural curiosity is what makes them great at what they do. If you blog for a living, you have to be comfortable jumping from one topic to the next, even if you don’t know anything about it. What allows us to do this, and to write authoritatively about subject areas that are new to us, is knowing how to properly research a blog post.
It almost goes without saying, but relying solely on Wikipedia as a primary source is almost always a bad idea. Yes, Wikipedia does have thousands of excellently researched articles, but it’s not infallible, and erroneous facts do make their way into articles without site editors noticing. Plus, every verifiable fact on the site is cited from links elsewhere on the web, so why cite the middleman?
If you’re relying on third-party information to write your blog post, choose authoritative sources. Official associations, government websites, heavily cited research papers, and preeminent industry experts are all good examples. Nobody is right all the time, though, so approach every source with a the practiced skepticism of a journalist and question everything until you’re positive your information is solid.
Check Your Facts
How to Write a Blog Post, Step 2: Writing a Great Headline
Everyone and their grandmother has an opinion about headlines. Some say you should be as specific as possible (to avoid misleading your readers and manage their expectations), while others recommend taking a more abstract approach. Vague headlines might work just fine if you’re Seth Godin, but for most of us, being specific is better.
How to Write a Blog Post, Step 3: The Writing Part
So, you’ve done your research, settled on a headline (or at least a working title), and now you’re ready to actually write a blog post. So get to it. Similarly to headlines, there are two main approaches to writing a blog post. You can either sit down and write an entire draft in a single sitting (my preferred workflow), or you can chip away at it gradually over time. There is no right or wrong answer here – only whatever works for you.
Few things are more jarring to read than repetition of certain words or phrases. Once you’re done with the first draft of your blog post, read through it and check for words that can be replaced to avoid repeating yourself.
BONUS: Every writer has a “crutch” word or phrase. This is a word that, no matter how carefully they might try, the writer simply cannot help themselves from including in their work. Identify what your crutch word is, be vigilant, and make sure it doesn’t appear more often than it needs to.
Read Your Post Aloud to Check Flow
This is a trick that many writers learn in workshops. If a piece reads awkwardly out loud, it will probably read awkwardly in your reader’s mind. It might seem a bit weird, but force yourself to read your post aloud to check for wordy bottlenecks or contrived sentences. Find yourself struggling with the flow of a sentence? Rework it until it rolls off your tongue.
Have Someone Else Read Your Work
This is crucial for inexperienced or casual bloggers. Asking a friend or colleague to check your work isn’t an admission of weakness or a sign of failure – it’s a commitment to making your work as strong as it possibly can be.
Keep Sentences Short and Paragraphs Shorter
Nothing will intimidate or outright anger a reader faster than huge walls of text. It’s a common mistake for inexperienced bloggers to make, and one I see far too often in a lot of online articles.
Sentences should be as short as possible. They’re easier to read, making your audience’s job easier. Shorter sentences also reduce the likelihood of going off on tangents. For example, I recently came across a sentence in an opinion piece in Wired that had no fewer than seven subordinate clauses, an editorial sin of almost unimaginable magnitude.
Paragraphs should also be short and sweet. The shorter the paragraph, the more likely your readers are to keep going. The “rules” of paragraph structure have been bent a little since web-based publishing became the norm, but try to keep individual ideas isolated to their own neat, short little paragraph.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Cuts or Adapt on the Fly
You may have forgotten, but I originally included a section in the example outline for this post that dealt with optimizing blog posts for SEO. I fully intended to write this section, but when I looked at how my first draft was shaping up, I realized this was too substantial a topic to tackle in an already lengthy post. As a result, I made the decision to cut this section from the post altogether. I purposefully left the outline intact to demonstrate that you shouldn’t be afraid to make editorial decisions like this.
Unless there’s something you absolutely MUST include (say, a section that your sales or managerial team is expecting in a post that you agreed to deliver), your outline is not carved in stone. Remember – an outline is a guide, not an immutable series of commandments. If something doesn’t work, whether it be a sentence, a paragraph, or even a whole section, don’t hesitate to make the cut. Be ruthless with your work.
That’s All She Wrote…
Blogging is one of those jobs that seems easy until you have to do it. Fortunately, it does get easier, and with time and practice, you’ll be blogging like a pro in no time.
If there’s an aspect of writing a blog post that I didn’t cover, or you have specific questions about my process or anything generally blog-related, let me know in the comments – I’ll answer them as best I can.
Now take up thy pen, go forth, and blog like a badass.